So Nancy Scola wrote a really interesting post at the Huffington Post yesterday — all about talk radio and its relationship to the ownership infrastructure in our corporate media. On my way back from hanging out with the Future of Music Coalition and the wicked charming gentlemen of OK Go, who were stumping for low power FM radio on Capitol Hill and spending some quality time with Local Community Radio Act of 2007 sponsors Mr. Lee Terry and Mr. Mike Doyle, I wanted to comment there. Sadly the Huffington peeps only let you post 350 words at a time, and no room for links! Here’s my thoughts on the relationship between low power FM and opportunities for ‘progressive’ talkers to learn their trade and gain opportunities to succeed on the radio dial:
I really like the baseball metaphor here, Nancy. Let’s take it one step further: We don’t just need double and triple-A teams for progressive (and dare I say local?) talkers to hone their craft — we need Little League.
Cities and towns band around things like high school plays, public school and community sports, and city council meetings not because there’s nothing better to watch on HBO or because there isn’t an arena rock concert or Broadway-caliber show in town. We get a chance to celebrate, appreciate and learn from our neighbors in the most vital ways when we wholeheartedly support their political, athletic, and creative work. Municipalities, local businesses, and churches fund enterprises like this because they are the lifeblood of healthy communities — and when personal or community-wide crises strike, relationships built on the bleachers at the soccer field or in the pews at church end up saving lives.
This is why we need to expand low power FM radio — now, today. Low power FM (LPFM) radio stations are broadcasting in over 800 communities across the United States. They serve broadcast ranges of about 5 miles, at 100 watts, with noncommercial content, always licensed to local nonprofit organizations. From Radio Free Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, to Radio Bird Street in Oroville, California, to the Historic Radio Museum of Ligonier, Indiana, to Portsmouth Community Radio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to La Voz de la Gente of Woodburn, Oregon, to the Black Chamber of Commerce’s station in Sacramento to WRFU in Urbana, Illinois, and beyond — local radio stations are reflecting, involving, and improving the daily discourse in their local communities. (Notice how these stations are thriving in communities where conservative talk has an unquestioned iron grip on the airwaves?)
(In some cases — like Immokalee, Florida and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi — these stations save lives — because they are run by volunteers, able to stay on the air through terrible hurricanes and storms, and deeply relevant to their local communities, so the go-to place to turn for local emergency information.)
Without a healthy distribution of high school and college radio stations, these venues are often the only places where a young hotshot can learn to handle a mic as well as to handle a well-turned phrase. If Clear Channel and their ilk dominate the hiring and training process of new talk radio show hosts, producers, and corporate domineers, then it is deeply unlikely that our young Future Talkers of America, whatever their political stripes, will find a place to shine in their chosen career.
Our friends at the National Association of Broadcasters — the lobbying group that represents the consolidated broadcasters who have killed progressive talk — have deeply limited low power FM radio to only the most rural areas, convincing Congress in 2000 that these stations could interfere with full power broadcasts if packed onto the radio dial. Even though the FCC designed the program to serve cities too, and for low power FM radio in America’s big cities and suburbs, as well as small, rural communities, Congress has not moved to expand low power FM to the thousands of places that need it.
Luckily, Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) just joined Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in cosponsoring the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 — HR 2802, and S 1675. This bill would bring LPFM to almost every major American city, and to hundreds, if not thousands, of other communties.
I want to turn around in 20 years and see vital debate on the airwaves, telling local, regional, and national stories with passion. As Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said at this year’s National Conference for Media Reform (and I paraphrase) — if we train a generation of youth to understand that the airwaves belong to them — and we hand them a microphone so they can learn to effect change in their communities — they will expect the next generation of communications infrastructure to be theirs, and in the service of diverse local needs, first and foremost. They will not understand why it should be any other way.
You can call your Congressmembers, and ask them to cosponsor the Local Community Radio Act, by getting started at prometheusradio.org or at Free Press’ great site. Or sign your name to expandlpfm.org.
It’s a small step — but it’s one key tool we need in the fight for more voices on our airwaves. Play ball!